Bad news is always a bit surreal until it sinks in. I don't know if I quite believed my brother had died when Mark told me.
I don't remember how we got packed, only laying in a daze telling the nurses my IV needed to go faster because I needed to leave for my brother's funeral.
Then, we were there. The familiar Kansas plains stretched on in bright sun as if everything was right in the world. Some part of me expected I would see him, well as ever once we arrived.
Settled at my mother's house, he never walked in to spend the evening with us like he usually did.
That's when I knew what my eyes needed to see. I set out with my hubs to drive to Ben's house, needing to be surrounded by everything that reminded me of him. Maybe this was all a dream and I will walk into his kitchen and see him pouring hot sauce on something, or cleaning silvery meat from a successful day's fishing trip.
It was night, and his house had a dark stillness to it. All was quiet except the usual cracking of the aged deck beneath our feet. That's when my eyes saw it, and my heart started to believe it . . . The bookmarks of the horrible thing that brought us here.
His window smashed by the first rescuers trying to make their way to him, and once inside, the air felt thin, watery, lifeless. There was no warm assurance that the nightmare was over.
His toil-stained caps that hung waiting across the dining room, because what bachelor wouldn't?
The cluttered bookcase where his firefighter books slumped, tattered by his earnest ambition to one day brave the hot flames and quench to victory its fiery talons. The pulse of his passion for fire now blood-drained, left slouching in frayed pages of blank words.
I knelt at the place where he died, arms spread wide, an empty embrace held closed-fisted by his absence.
Walking into his bedroom it seemed he had simply hurried off to work, not gone forever. His sheets and pillow still rumpled from a night's rest, as he wasn't expecting visitors. For a seemingly unending clock face of minutes I sat soaking up the essence of him. Looking at the strips of all that he put his life into. So many memories, happy, joyous, tender, but still mirrored by a veil of heartbreak.
The realness my eyes took in was stored to solidify these truths once my heart is able. For now it has been too much. The pictures, the music, the seeing him still and breathless rakes too deep a hurt to occupy my emotions. I scarce can think of it because it hurts so profoundly that fears rises and unease comes crippling to shatter my soul. There's just not time for that, I have to be solid for so much more.
There will come a day of facing it head on, of grappling with what's left and realizing what never will be. That day I will stand strong and feel all that I feel and not run; let loose the gravel that binds heavy with my sadness. This day however, I can't think on the pain, I have to only gratify the knowledge of his current wholeness, and acceptance, and rejoicing as he is no longer weighed down by this world. I imagine the tenderness with which he scooped up my small daughter and held her close in the city of light, waiting for our homecoming. My heart longs deeply for that day.
For now, days hammer on, and I still my heart-screams to focus on the ones who need me present. Soaking up every memory made, thanking for the ordinary amazing graces that soothe the emptiness, and walking, walking stranger-like through this world that is not my home.
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